Step-up scrutiny of private clinics, pharmacists urge

Fumes from the preparation of cancer drugs may pose risks to other tenants, group warns

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 3:14am

The government has been urged to step up scrutiny of private medical centres administering drugs to cancer patients as their inadequate facilities may expose tenants in the same building to cancer-causing fumes circulated through the ventilation system, pharmacists say.

Society of Hospital Pharmacists president William Chui Chun-ming said many private clinics offering intravenous chemotherapy were housed in commercial buildings not designed for medical use and could pose a risk in the long term.

Doctors agreed there was a theoretical risk but insisted their existing safeguards were adequate.

Chui said intravenous chemotherapy required a bacteria-free environment and isolated cabinets for handling the cancer drugs. These would prevent the drug fumes from leaking into the air and entering the building's air conditioning system.

Many private clinics providing the treatment lacked these facilities, he said.

"The government needs to expand its regulation of the private medical sector, and step up monitoring of those who provide high risk intravenous chemotherapy," he said.

Chui was speaking after a two-month investigation by the society, which found there were 19 medical centres providing intravenous chemotherapy in 12 major commercial buildings in Central, Wan Chai, Mong Kok and other districts.

"These buildings were not designed for these treatments. In the long run, say decades, such operations will pose risks," he said.

The society had been told by drug manufacturers' staff who visited the clinics that many of them lacked an up-to-standard isolated cabinet, costing about HK$500,000 each and an individual ventilation system costing around HK$2 million to create a bacteria-free room.

During the drug mixing procedure, required in 90 per cent of the intravenous chemo drugs, injection of the needle into the drug bottle could admit bacteria and contaminate the drug, Chui said.

When the needle was pulled out, the drug might spurt out and could be inhaled by staff. It might also enter the central ventilation system and pose threats to other building tenants.